Florida vs. Colorado State score: Gators exorcise demons but still have a long way to go

By Adam Silverstein
September 16, 2018
Florida vs. Colorado State score: Gators exorcise demons but still have a long way to go

Image Credit: @GatorsFB/Twitter

It was a total team effort on Saturday afternoon in The Swamp. Well, it had to be considering the Florida Gators offense sputtered out of the gate and hardly clicked into gear at any point during the team’s 48-10 win over the Colorado State Rams.

It’s not that Florida was not the dominant team on Saturday, it’s just that the Gators needed their defense and special teams to step up in major ways in order to ease their way toward a victory over the Rams at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. That’s not necessarily a bad thing — Ohio State did the same against TCU a few hours later — it’s just that Florida should be able to get the job done offensively against one of the lowest-rated defensive teams in the nation.

Let’s regroup and explore some takeaways from the Gators’ second win of the season.

1. Demons exorcised: Beating Colorado State handily will not erase the hurt of losing to Kentucky one week ago, but Florida certainly appeared less inept and was clearly a more motivated and sound team on Saturday. The Gators offensive line stepped up and paved the way for a solid rushing affair with UF outgaining CSU 222-70 on the ground. Redshirt junior running back Jordan Scarlett averaged 9.3 yards per carry for 56 yards and a touchdown, and sophomore Lamical Perine was clutch on a couple series with seven carries for 37 yards. Even freshman Dameon Pierce got into the action, breaking off a 68-yard score to finish with 87 yards on five touches. The only bad news? Sophomore Malik Davis, who tore his ACL late last season, went down with an injury and did not return.

The rushing attack was complemented by solid play along the defensive line as Florida registered five sacks and nine tackles for loss on the afternoon. As such, the Gators held the Rams to 3.7 yards per play and 1.7 yards per rush, doubling the former and nearly quadrupling the latter themselves. Though Colorado State did move the ball with ease at times, its two scores came over a span of 3:34 in the game. Otherwise, the visitors were completely shut out.

2. It wasn’t all bad for the quarterback: Look, there is no getting around redshirt sophomore quarterback Feleipe Franks‘ start to the game. He opened the contest 0-for-6 with an interception, missed open receivers and was simply awful in the first quarter as UF only amassed 27 yards of offense and went 0-for-3 on third downs. Here’s the truth: Franks rebounded. After that rough start, he completed 8-of-9 passes for 119 yards and two touchdowns, moving from a -33.3 quarterback rating over the first 15 minutes to a game-ending 150.6. A 38-yard touchdown toss to redshirt junior wide receiver Van Jefferson was certainly a highlight.

That does not mean Franks is suddenly a top-tier signal caller, but the fact that he was able to compose himself, bounce back and reduce errors as the running game got going showed a maturity he lacked a year ago. Head coach Dan Mullen was certainly pleased with what he saw, all things considered. “I know people get on him with this narrative of, ‘OK, he’s started all these games.’ Not in our system he hasn’t,” Mullen said after the game. “We have his back. He doesn’t have a short leash. We’re going to play him. … In three games he’s matched last year’s [touchdown-scoring] total, so that’s a big step forward. That’s his third game in our system right there, and the fact is I don’t see him make poor decisions. I see him maybe needing to make them a little bit quicker, and I see him sometimes missing one. The misses are the ones that happen really fast.”

3. Special special teams: There’s no doubt that where Florida truly excelled Saturday was in the third phase of the game. Starting with the easy stuff, freshman kicker Evan McPherson booted two perfect field goals — both in the first quarter (one from 48 yards) — that made the most of a pair of frustrating stalled offensive drives. Redshirt junior punter Tommy Townsend also got his job done, with a 49-yard punt and another that dropped perfectly inside the 20-yard line.

OK, now for the good stuff. The Gators forced a fumble on a Rams punt and blocked another on the afternoon. The forced fumble came on Colorado State’s first offensive possession when redshirt freshman James Houston took advantage of a bumbled snap by knocking down the punter and allowing junior Joshua Hammond to fall on the ball. The second came as freshman Amari Burney burst through the blockers to create an opportunity for junior Tyrie Cleveland to fall on the ball in the end zone for a second-quarter touchdown.

As if that was not enough, junior Freddie Swain totaled 107 yards on two punt returns, bringing the second back 85 yards for a touchdown early in the fourth quarter. Swain also caught an 18-yard touchdown pass from Franks in the second quarter, posting a team-high 125 all-purpose yards on the day. “Special teams, I would say from my perspective, is more important than any offensive play or defensive play,” Swain said after the game, per UF. “Once we get special teams down and we win special teams, we’re going to win the game. It just shows. Everybody’s working. Everybody’s trying to get key blocks. Everybody’s trying to take one to the house. Everybody’s just buying in.”

Practicing special teams works. Imagine that. Pretty cool, huh?

4. The offense is still a mess: Florida’s additional possessions and solid rushing day, coupled with Franks’ improved play over the final three quarters, masked another lackluster effort for the Gators offense. Florida barely outgained Colorado State 341-310 overall and saw CSU double it up in passing yards (240-119). The Gators did convert their final five third-down opportunities but started 0-for-3 and ran just 44 plays on the afternoon as they kept going three-and-out and only possessed the ball for 21:27. It’s not so much that Florida did not put up huge numbers; it’s just that Colorado State’s defense has been so poor this season that it provided an opportunity for the Gators to do so, one they were clearly unable to pounce on. Remember that the Rams fumbled the ball three times and the hosts had two special teams touchdowns on the day.

5. As for the defense … it was fine. Colorado State QB K.J. Carta-Samuels entered the game as one of the nation’s top passers and completed 21-of-33 passes for 217 yards with a score. He was able to identify open receivers throughout the game, and Florida’s secondary was notably burned a couple times. When it wasn’t, a penalty or two (UF committed eight for 75 yards in the game) aided CSU’s efforts significantly. The missed tackles were certainly cut down from a week ago, but a further analysis of game film is needed to determine exactly how much better the Gators were in that phase. Redshirt junior defensive end Jabari Zuniga stood out with 2.5 sacks, and the line as a whole was a bright spot.

6. What’s next? Florida should feel good after this win over Colorado State despite some of the aforementioned hiccups, but what exactly is ahead for the Gators? Beating the Rams at home in The Swamp is nice until you realize that UF is about to head to Neyland Stadium and stay out on the road until Oct. 6. This is likely more of a step in the right direction than anything else for Florida, but the Gators will absolutely need to build on lessons learned in practice this week and in this game in order to prove they belong with tougher opponents like they will face in the SEC.


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